6

– Autumn/Winter 2002

Hanna Barbarity

Joel Smith

Tags: Philip Guston

Laylah Ali, Illustration, artist's book, Laylah Ali for the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002. Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.

Laylah Ali, Illustration, artist's book, Laylah Ali for the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002. Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.

Earlier this year Laylah Ali's sleek, cruel, antiheroic action figures - the Greenheads - made their publishing debut in an untitled MoMA Projects book. For those who have followed the bad behaviour of Ali's gouache-painted characters over the past few years, the Projects book marks a shift of means as dramatic as any from novel to movie screen - or to propose a closer analogy, between a comic strip and its computer-animated release.

For instead of simply producing a book of photo-mechanical reproductions from her paintings, Ali chose to have the fictive world of her diminutive paintings translated into digitised images. Nicole Parente's renderings, in effect, present a new version of the Greenheads; one sensibly assembled from a menu of clicked multiple-choice options, like so many malign Mr. Potato Heads. Ali's unfussy but conscientious technique as a painter normally allows minor craft imperfections, slightly mismatched colour mixes and visible brushstrokes for example, her trademark sky-blue backdrops - which it is in the physical nature of a digital-image file to eliminate. At the same time, the book's images uncannily replicate the tiny yet crucial formal nuances that give each Greenhead what it has in the way of expression and singularity: differently-shaped left and right eyes, for instance, and a range of subtly imperfect teeth arrangements in the Greenheads' frequently screaming mouths.

That the hard-drive and the printed page should prove apt new stomping-and-gouging grounds for Greenhead activity seems in retrospect self-evident. Ali has commented, after all, that she conceived her figures as 'an ever-expanding alphabet' that would populate 'a pared-down world with few, if any, painterly distractions', thus obliging viewers to focus on 'what was actually going on between the

Footnotes
  1. The comments by Laylah Ali quoted herein appear in an interview with the artist by Rebecca Walker in the exhibition catalogue Laylah Ali, Boston: The Institute of Contemporary Art, 2001